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Toronto Raptors executive Masai Ujiri celebrates his team's NBA championship-clinching victory over the Golden State Warriors in game six of the 2019 NBA Finals

Basketball

Raptors exec Ujiri: Altercation happened ‘because I am black’

LOS ANGELES, United States, Aug 20Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri said Thursday that the altercation between him and a California sheriff’s deputy at the Raptors’ 2019 NBA title-clinching game was racially motivated.

Nigerian-born Ujiri issued a statement through the Raptors Thursday in his first public comments since body camera video footage was released this week that showed deputy Alan Strickland shoving Ujiri and telling him to back up as the executive tried to show his pass and join his players celebrating their championship triumph over the Golden State Warriors.

Ujiri has counter-sued Strickland, who claimed in a February lawsuit that Ujiri struck him in an altercation that left him with lasting bodily and psychological injury.

“The video sadly demonstrates how horribly I was treated by a law enforcement officer last year in the midst of my team, the Toronto Raptors, winning its first world championship,” Ujiri said.

“It was an exhilarating moment of achievement for our organization, for our players, for our city, for our country, and for me personally, given my long-tenured professional journey in the NBA.

“Yet, unfortunately, I was reminded in that moment that despite all of my hard work and success, there are some people, including those who are supposed to protect us, who will always and only see me as something that is unworthy of respectful engagement. And there’s only one indisputable reason why that is the case — because I am Black.”

Ujiri’s countersuit, filed in US District Court in Oakland, California, alleges that Strickland falsified the encounter and attempted to portray Ujiri as “the initial aggressor and an inherently violent individual.”

It calls Strickland’s account “a complete fabrication” that has been contradicted by video footage.

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“What saddens me most about this ordeal is that the only reason why I am getting the justice I deserve in this moment is because of my success,” Ujiri said Thursday.

“Because I’m the President of a NBA team, I had access to resources that ensured I could demand and fight for my justice. So many of my brothers and sisters haven’t had, don’t have, and won’t have the same access to resources that assured my justice. And that’s why Black Lives Matter.”

Ujiri closed his statement by invoking the names of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Elijah McClain, black Americans who died at the hands of law enforcement officials and whose deaths have fueled the Black Lives Matter movement.

Ujiri said it was important to demand justice for those three, “for far too many Black lives that mattered” and “for Black people around the world, who need our voice and our compassion to save their lives.”

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